Book: Love and Other Perishable Items
Author: Laura Buzo
Age Range: 14 and up
I really enjoyed Laura Buzo's Love and Other Perishable Items, an new US release of a book previously published in Australia. This is a book that I immediately wanted to recommend to friends like Liz, Leila, and Kelly (and then saw that Kelly had already reviewed it and loved it). Love and Other Perishable Items is realistic young adult fiction. So realistic, in fact, that it's sometimes a bit painful to read. Painful in the sense that you know the main character is going to get hurt, and you care about her so much that you can hardly bear to watch.
Love and Other Perishable Items is the story of Amelia and Chris, two co-workers at a Coles supermarket. The book starts out from Amelia's first-person perspective, and then later shifts to Chris' view, and back again. Amelia is fifteen and Chris is twenty-two. The two are friends. However, Amelia also has an enormous crush on Chris. A crush that seems hopeless because of the seven year age difference (Chris is in college) and because Chris is so much cooler than she is. But you can't help you love. Chris' feelings are less clear (even when we hear from him directly), but there's no question that the two share a strong connection.
The thing that stands out the most for me about Love and Other Perishable Items is the strength of the characterization. I don't know that I've ever met protagonists more three dimensional than Amelia and Chris. I feel like I know them. There were times when I felt like I was Amelia. Amelia's family dynamics are also painfully real. Buzo never takes the easy way out. Amelia's mother is beaten down from working full time and taking care of the household. Amelia resents the father who, when he's there, doesn't help at all. But you can also see that Amelia's parents love each other. It's not the pat situation where the Mom is staying there for the kids, or whatever. It's real life. It's complex. Even the secondary characters are distinct, with quirks that make them stand out as individuals.
Here's what I mean:
"I don't really have a feel for him (Stuart) as he has never said a word to me or even made eye contact. He only ever comes down to the front end of the store to talk to Kathy. There is sometimes a curt nod toward Chris, Ed or Bianca. He is generally unsmiling and a bit formidable, but incredibly self-assured. From the little I know of him, he is the complete opposite of Chris. Chris is inclusive, extremely social, and his speech is so laden with in-jokes, self-deprecation and sarcasm you have to learn to decode it. Stuart seems like of minimal. He is a large guy, broad across the shoulders, attractive if you like cruel-looking men. And people do. Liza did once. (Chapter: Lonely Days Begone)
Stuart is a very minor character, but Amelia's keen observations make him interesting here. This passage also shows, of course, how Amelia views everything in relation to Chris. The whole social structure of the Coles supermarket workers is well-done, and I think it will appeal to teen readers.
I do want to add that Love and Other Perishable Items is definitely a book for high schoolers, rather than middle school kids. (Ms. Yingling thinks so, too.) There is a lot of swearing (in the sections told from Chris' perspective). There are many references to drinking, some to drugs, and some to sex. I think that teens will enjoy this, but I personally found the initial switch from Amelia's perspective to Chris' quite jarring in this respect.
Apart from that initial abruptness, however (the fact that their voices are so different), the dual perspective format works well for Love and Other Perishable Items. The reader can understand nuances of Chris' behavior that are a mystery to Amelia. The reader sees Chris' positive view of Amelia, even when she is down about herself. There's one neat instance in which they each (silently) think about being nostalgic for something that "hasn't even finished yet." A concept which I totally get, and think is quite insightful.
I also liked that Love and Other Perishable Items is set in Australia. There's enough local detail to let the reader know that they are visiting another country, but not so many local references as to make the book inaccessible. It's hot at Christmastime, for example. Going to the pub after work is a regular thing (and the drinking age is lower than in the US). And so on.
In short, I recommend Love and Other Perishable Items for high school readers (and adults) who enjoy realistic fiction. Although the relationship between Amelia and Chris is at the core of the book, this is far from being a conventional love story. The social dynamics at Amelia and Chris's homes, schools, and their mutual workplace are all fully realized, too, as are the other characters. I will say, as an adult reader, that this book made me glad not to be fifteen again. But I think that if I was reading it at fifteen, I would be fascinated. Highly recommended.
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: December 11, 2012
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher
See also: Stacked review by Kelly Jensen, Ms. Yingling Reads review
© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).